Monday, June 16, 2008

English: A Language that Unites while it Divides

India, a country with an ancient heritage and culture which is thousands of years old, a country which has many thousands of languages, in some way or another derived from Sanskrit and yet ironically we don’t have a language to unite our country.

Hindi has been announced as the language that will unite India. It is mandatory to learn Hindi in schools but we often come across instances where people from other the eastern or southern parts of India can barely understand it. If the region has a high infiltration of Bollywood films then there may be some hope but down south where the influences of Bollywood have been firmly kept away due to a strong south Indian film industry, chances of people knowing Hindi is almost remote.

In most schools down south, children are allowed to carry books and consult each other during the Hindi exam while the person 'on watch' kindly looks the other way, which of course is not the case for other subject exams. If you are a tourist in Tamil Nadu then there is an unwritten rule - don’t speak Hindi!

It’s even more ironic that our country shuns a language which is indeed 'ours' and universally accepts English which is a leftover of the British Raj. Everybody in urban areas and some of the emancipated rural areas can speak a smattering of English or they are trying their best to learn. Even Indian bureaucracy uses English as it crosses all vernacular barriers. If we observe our daily conversations at home and work, it is comprised of almost 50% English and 50% vernacular.

On the other side while in a way English unites our country, it divides our classes - perhaps more in the urban context. People with better diction and vocabulary are regarded highly 'educated' and 'cultured' while regional accents are frowned upon. When people use a wrong word inadvertently, we are quick to judge and snigger within ourselves - "Oh probably he or she was not educated in an English medium school!" At a workplace one's capability to write and converse in English has a distinct advantage.

So much is our love for English that we look down on the use of our own languages and have now stopped learning it altogether except for what schools force upon us as mandatory learning till class 10.

We are probably victims of our colonial past but it may be interesting to observe that highly advanced first world countries like Japan and Germany have progressed using their own languages while ancient India being the inventors and significant contributors to science, medicine, mathematics and astronomy use a borrowed language to progress.

We have benefited from our colonial past too, the wide knowledge of English in our country helps it to be the back office to the world and provide IT services to many countries so I guess we may love it or hate it but we definitely cannot do without it.


Ghetufool said...

this is the precise reason i started a bengali blog. but have stopped writing there because it's tough to write bangla in roman letters.

Ace of Spades said...

when everything around us is in english - from the internet language to cell phone language to even the posters of bollywood films, what else do you expect.

ichatteralot said...

@Ghetufool: I read your Bangla blog and it was good to read though a Bangla script would have just been perfect!

@Ace of Spades: We dont have a choice - I wonder if the Chineese, Japs, French and Germans use internet in English? I agree - Bollywood films has given up using Hindi and Urdu for the names and credits

shadowywaters said...

You are right - English is a language that unites but you are wrong that it divides because, a country such as ours having at least 32 languages and 1000's of dialects has a very hard time finding common ground for communication between its people (as you mention - Tamil but I would say other languages too!). But more than communication, tolerance and respect of other cultures are not strong either ... and hence the colonial language like English that made us into a nation 300 hundred years ago from many kingdoms binds us again for our biggest problem is we are still divided.

You don't find the same for Japan or Germany because they have single language!

And lets say, a person speaking in English with a regional accent is sniggered and judged, this is true with for other languages too. A person born far away from West Bengal is frowned for not having the correct accent to talk in Bengali or similarly for a person who learned Tamil away from Tamil Nadu. They are considered uncivilized and insulting the mother tongue.

Or a French-Canadian who speaks French in sniggered in France for his outrageous accent and said to be uncouth!

Tolerance is what English language does and hence it binds people, whether here or abroad :)

- Kausum

ichatteralot said...

@Shadowywaters: Hey - its good to see you again - I was wondering where you had disappeared and your old blog is under lock and key now. Yours is a very valid point - I guess we need a universal language and that is only English. BTW, I remember seeing a reference to a Bengali food blog on your Lost Continent space - can I have the address?

shadowywaters said...

Aww! You recognized me after so many months :) You even remembered my old space name! Wow! Thats incredible :) I thought you forgot about it after taking me of your blogroll :P

Anyways, the Bong Cook Book link is in my new blog - "Sandeepa" since she is the one who writes it.

And to reply to your comment, I do write what I like to write and for the past some months, I am not liking to write!

Hopefully, I will write soon. Btw, in the mean time, there is a photo blog too. Thats the latest :) as they say 'A picture says a 1000 words'

ichatteralot said...

@Shadowywaters: Yes I understand - the best is produced when it just flows like water. I guess I have a good memory and I checked out Sandeepa - excellent blog!

Anonymous said...

Its true that having single official language in India is quite difficult as there are many regional languages.

but if we once forget about back office business, is English all that necessary as many people say?

Its because of british influence and our acceptance of english, it has became popular language.

our past, our forefathers, past leaders embraced english because of british, british left but english didn't because we accepted english as something necessary to live in this world.

if we look at China, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, Middle East etc, regional languages flourish even today.

China, the country which achieved rapid economic growth in the last few decades, received billions of investment from US, UK, export tons of goods to same countries doesn't think english as something "necessary" to deal with rest of the world.

i guess no one needs introduction about how well China has adopted english as compared to Indians. Same with Japan, Russia, South Korea or any mainland european country.

Yet they have been more successful than "english speaking Indians" to do business, to be part of this world, to embrace globalization.

if chinese leader comes to India, our PM speaks in english but they only speak in chinese. if Putin, the Russian PM visits india, he speaks russian while our PM speaks in english.

English may be necessary and a big advantage India has got when it comes outsourcing sector but when it comes general business, its only a small advantage but nowhere necessary.

if China, Japan, Russia, Germany, Italy etc could do without it, then we certainly can,

Its looks as if english is widespread and popular language in India only because we made it. if we dump it, it won't be anymore.

its interesting to note that Tamilians are adopted english and make it dominant language but they are simply not ready to accept Hindi.

IMO we have two options for official language- Hindi or Sanskrist. atleast 50% of Indias population can understand hindi, a large percentage of them can speak too. So there ends the argument, Hindi should be the official language.

Regional languages must spread its influence through Movies, TV, Books, Newspapers, Internet,etc or anywhere and everywhere all people can understand that particular language.

Learing english, hindi besides ones regional language would be harder but we have to pay that price for maintaining Indias diversity.

ichatteralot said...

Hello - I wish you'd leave your name so that I can address you! Yes your comments are valid, maybe we accepted English because we were made to feel inferior by the British and hence felt that if we were more like 'them' we would be more acceptable may be despite the brown skin.

I think that the colonial past hangover is almost wiped out, now the youth is proud of its language, movies and music and they accept that they are a part of a vibrant nation.